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  • Benefits of GIS Integration with an Enterprise Asset Management System

    by Damon D. Judd, President Ala Carto Consulting, March 20, 2003
    [Printer Friendly Version]

    "Science is nothing but perception" (Plato)
    Organizations with a large physical asset infrastructure are being challenged with the implementation of information technology to maximize the returns on their infrastructure investments. Business drivers including new government legislation such as GASB 34, deregulation of utilities, and increased competition among all business sectors, including a renewed emphasis on customer service, suggest that new and better information systems are required. To meet this implementation challenge, an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) system is frequently recommended.

    An EAM solution includes hardware, software, and data, as well as the information and knowledge encapsulated in the technology and the people. It needs to incorporate integrated technology as well as appropriate management practices and principles to make effective use of the software and related information. A successful EAM implementation leads to continuous improvement from better performance measurement of asset operations.

    Further substantial business benefits can be achieved through the implementation of a Geographic Information System (GIS) that is integrated with the EAM solution. By spatially enabling the representation of the entire infrastructure in map-based views, and by utilizing tools to analyze spatial relationships, tremendous improvements in efficiency, cost containment, and better decision-making can be realized.


    A typical utility company or public works organization owns and maintains thousands of assets including vehicles, equipment, and facilities. Difficult to quantify but just as valuable is the investment in the people and the supporting technology to build, maintain and operate those assets effectively.

    An Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solution can often provide the necessary capabilities for meeting at least 80% of the business needs related to all aspects of asset construction, maintenance/repairs, and operations. It also enables the continuous improvement process by offering a foundation set of tools for measuring the performance of those assets based on an established set of metrics.

    What is an EAM solution?

    An EAM solution uses a suite of software tools to support the tracking, analysis, and reporting of asset and work-related information across an organization’s divisions or departments. Some of the business processes that can be improved by implementing an EAM solution include:

    1. Asset management - tracking the asset condition, life cycle cost, and performance measurements.

    2. Work management - including labor performance, material availability, equipment conditions, work duration, activity details, and repair or maintenance estimates.

    3. Materials and Service management - decision support for vendor performance evaluations, material usage, inventory turns, and service quality.

    4. Financial management - includes support for budgeting, cost tracking, cash flow forecasting, and financial reporting.

    An enterprise asset management system must enable the collection and dissemination of a repository of asset-related information. The information delivered by the EAM solution should be accessible to a multitude of end users: from field workers to dispatchers, engineers, supervisors, line managers, and on up to the executive level. It must also be feasible to view or report the information in a number of different ways to satisfy the specific needs of each business unit. Different access methods might include graphic, tabular, and map-based displays.

    GIS Integration with Asset Management

    By further integrating into the EAM solution the capabilities of a Geographic Information System (GIS), which many organizations already have in place, the ability to manage the asset inventory even more efficiently can be realized. The GIS enables map-based views of the asset and work information that is managed using an EAM system. Because there is a database relationship between the spatial data in the GIS and details of the assets and the work performed on those assets in the EAM, extended graphical display and data analysis functionality becomes possible. In an integrated solution, the graphical perspective can be presented along with a detailed work history of the selected set of assets. Asset-related information can be spatially analyzed to help identify trends or to determine impacts of proposed operations. Analysis results and trends can be displayed on a map to further assist in the decision making process.

    Figure 1. Call Center Application - example of GIS integration with EAM to enhance customer service. (image courtesy of Azetca, Inc.)

    The need for an integrated EAM solution is being driven from the business requirement to manage the overall asset life cycle cost, while creating a shareable knowledge base about those assets. It is also being driven by technology challenges such as obsolescence, complexity, and support of a plethora of disparate IT systems in the face of budget reductions.

    From a business perspective, organizations such as those in the utilities and public works sectors are being challenged to do more with less. For example, in the electric utility market de-regulation is forcing companies to ensure that assets are being operated in the most efficient manner to keep rates down.

    GASB 34

    Particularly in the public sector, new legislation such as GASB 34 is creating new incentives to more efficiently maintain existing infrastructure. Adopted in June 1999 by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, Statement No. 34 is more commonly known as GASB 34. Among other provisions, GASB 34 now requires government agencies to report the value of their infrastructure assets such as roads, bridges, water and sewer facilities, and similar long-lived assets.

    The methods for accounting for the value of assets can be based on depreciation of those assets, or it can be based on a modified approach. The modified approach requires the government agency to demonstrate that the infrastructure assets are maintained at or above a condition level that has been established.

    In addition, there are specific asset reporting requirements for GASB 34 that can be supported by GIS capabilities, especially when integrated with an EAM solution. An integrated GIS and EAM solution provides the capabilities for supporting asset reporting requirements by documenting the asset inventory, storing the asset condition levels, and by assisting in tracking the cost accumulation associated with daily work activities performed on the infrastructure assets as required by the GASB 34 modified approach.

    Figure 2. Road inventory for Boston uses a GIS interface to support asset reporting.


    Fundamentally, three main business drivers exist for infrastructure asset intensive organizations. They are:
    1. Maximize the return on capital invested,
    2. Manage the overall asset life cycle cost, and
    3. Maintain a shareable asset knowledge base.

    Maximize the return on capital invested

    Both the private and public sectors need to eliminate premature asset replacement and the obsolescence of their asset investments. For example, the cost of replacing a new pump in a pump station is more expensive in the long term than performing the required preventative maintenance. And by tracking the operational performance of assets, condition levels can be more effectively monitored, providing a meaningful track record that enables better decision support prior to making investments in new capital projects.

    Manage the overall asset life cycle cost

    As companies look to do more with less, they need to evaluate the overall impact of adding new assets to their systems. To accomplish this, they must understand the full life cycle cost of an asset. The life cycle costs of an asset can be divided into four stages:
    1. Asset planning: the costs associated with planning for the construction and on-going improvement to the assets;
    2. Asset installation/improvement and replacement: the costs associated with extending the life of an asset including the initial installation;
    3. Asset maintenance: the costs associated with maintaining the assets to ensure it fulfills its anticipated useful life; and
    4. Asset operations: the costs associated with operating the asset, which usually forces asset maintenance.

    Maintain shareable asset knowledge base

    Factors like the aging work force and the volume of assets being managed are creating challenges to maintain a reusable asset knowledge base. For example, organizations want to know the problems associated with assets and equipment: who are the best vendors, where is the highest incidence of failure, and what are the best work practices? The answers to these questions must be readily available.

    Why implement an EAM solution?

    Asset life cycle management is not static. New methods and techniques are constantly being tried and implemented around the world. The challenge is in making these methods and techniques available to members of the organization so they can learn and adapt.


    With recent and emerging technology advances such as the componentization and standardization of software, enterprise-wide systems are feasible and even required in order to manage the volume of information associated with infrastructure assets.

    The spatial view of an asset inventory adds new dimensions to supervisors’ abilities, maintenance and work crews’ efficiency, management curiosity, and a host of other intangible benefits. To wit, the ability to visually display the asset data that affects an individual employee’s planned or completed work activities, along with reference features such as roads, buildings, sidewalks, and so on, can make all the difference between an efficient organization and a misdirected one.

    Enabling the Spatial View

    Science, in many forms, is based on abstractions of reality. Take a map for example. A map is simply an abstract representation of reality, drawn to scale, usually onto a flat surface. It is intended to allow the reader to comprehend where " things " are in relation to each other.

    Maps are typically used to represent some part of the Earth's surface and the "things" may be places, classes, features, or objects located in some known frame of reference or coordinate system. Traditional maps represent the information in a planimetric manner, such that horizontal spatial relationships are accurately portrayed. In other terms, the objects being mapped are stored as data planes, where a data plane is a collection of similar types of features with x,y coordinates. The x,y coordinates represent locations where the curved surface of the Earth has been projected onto a flat (planar) surface described by a two- dimensional, cartesian (X,Y) coordinate system.

    A GIS Database for the Asset Inventory

    A Geographic Information System (GIS) database consists of a spatially registered set of data planes or themes of objects (e.g. assets) that can be mapped. A GIS represents data graphically and provides additional tools for analyzing spatially referenced data. A GIS is sometimes called a spatial database management system.

    Desktop mapping systems and Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) systems have existed for many years and are widely used, especially in the fields of civil and mechanical engineering, architectural design, and facilities management. The primary distinction between these types of systems and Geographic Information Systems is the ability of a GIS to:

    * Integrate data from a variety of source scales and formats into a common, geographically-referenced coordinate system,
    * Maintain connections between spatial objects and tabular attributes, and
    * Provide analysis tools to manipulate those data in a spatial context.

    An asset inventory is typically at least partially maintained in some sort of database or computerized system(s). If the locations of those assets have been mapped or located in some way, the first step toward creating a GIS database of the asset inventory has already been achieved.

    Spatial Analysis

    By representing the data appropriately in a GIS and by applying the concepts of spatial relations we can greatly improve our ability to make good decisions, especially those decisions that are derived from our understanding of human interaction with the world around us. The fact that the data planes in a GIS are spatially registered ensures that objects that are collinear, such as a street segment from one data plane and a county boundary (defined by the street centerline) from another data plane, lie on the exact same set of X,Y coordinate pairs.

    By applying GIS tools to analyze spatial relationships, it is much faster and easier to answer questions that face modern infrastructure organizations, like: how many linear feet of old sewer lines need to be replaced this year that are within busy commercial areas?

    Proximity may be used to understand how residential neighborhoods evolve, or where to place new power lines without adversely impacting local neighborhoods. Connectedness can be used to describe transportation networks or to model flows along a pipeline. Superposition involves the 3rd dimension (z, or elevation component) and provides a means to identify, for example, where a concrete sidewalk overlies a utility conduit. Containment includes the ability to determine what features or objects are inside other features, such as the number of proposed light poles to be placed inside a new residential development.

    Once the asset inventory has been spatially enabled in a GIS database, the use of spatial analysis tools can be applied to help analyze the information and thus enable decision support.

    Figure 3. GIS data layers can be spatially analyzed to support engineering design decisions.


    Database Relations - Primary Keys

    By combining the advantages of the graphical display of data, the ability to analyze spatial relationships among the data, and the integration with non-spatial descriptive information about those assets, some very powerful tools can be applied.

    A GIS provides the graphical interface needed to view asset data directly after it is entered into an EAM system. In order for that to happen, there needs to be a connection between the location (and corresponding spatial view) of the asset stored in the GIS and all the maintenance history, condition ratings, and detailed data about those assets that is maintained in the EAM database.

    The connection is typically based on a unique data column called a primary key. A primary key field is stored both in the GIS as an attribute for a spatial location (such as the Asset_ID) and is linked to a similar data field that is included in the EAM data tables (e.g. EQUIPMENT_ID or FACILITY_ID) that contain detailed asset information. Implementation Issues

    The question often asked when an organization is deciding whether or not to implement an EAM solution is: “Should we go for the Big Bang approach, or split up the effort into multiple, smaller, yet inter-related projects?” Good question. The answer is likely to be based on the specific circumstances faced by each organization. How much data must be converted? How many old systems can/should be replaced? What integration points must be built? Who are all the people that will need training? Why is there no budget for this? And so on.

    Business Process Change

    For organizations to make effective use of the information inherent in an EAM system, a continuous improvement approach is recommended. In order to enhance an organization’s work processes, it is likely that changes to the current processes will be necessary. Continuous improvement can be realized when an organization is able to define metrics regarding specific asset conditions, then measure those metrics and analyze the results. But the only way to achieve continuous improvement is through changes to business processes based on the information derived from the measurement of asset performance. Therefore an organization that is preparing to implement an EAM solution must also be prepared for changes to their current practices. There are various approaches, methodologies, and techniques that can be applied to help design and implement process change based on asset performance measurements. The Balanced Scorecard approach is one that is used by a variety of industries from manufacturing to utilities to measure performance at a number of levels. For work management, Acitivity-Based Costing (ABC) can be used to help streamline cost and budget estimates and provide a data model for tracking those costs. By adding the GIS component to an EAM solution, all members of the organization can expand their abilities to view assets, schedule work, optimize maintenance operations, make more cost-effective decisions, and have more fun in the process.

    Figure 4. Integrated GIS and event planning application for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. (image courtesy The TSR Group)


    By integrating the spatial component, the asset knowledge base that is enabled via the implementation of an EAM solution can be better managed, shared, and visualized. Maps with current information become readily available. Spatial analysis capabilities can further supplement decision support and asset reporting requirements. The same knowledge base used by upper management can be extended to the field staff through mobile deployment.

    By integrating capabilities such as a spatially enabled, enterprise-wide asset inventory it is possible to increase the effectiveness in measuring the performance of asset operations. Resulting changes to the affected business processes will likely lead to continuous process improvement, thereby reducing maintenance costs, improving customer service, enhancing operational efficiency, and increasing the return to the bottom line.


    Damm, Mark, 2001. “Implementing Enterprise Asset Management Solutions”, GITA Annual Conference proceedings, San Diego, CA, March 2001.

    Jensen, Clint and Carl Horton, 2002. “GASB 34 Implementation using GIS”, Azteca Systems, Inc. White Paper,

    Vivek, March 2000. “Utilities Sector Industry Trends Document”, Infosys Technologies, Ltd. white paper, Bangalore, India.

    GITA, 2002. “GIS, WMS Find Common Ground”, Platts Energy Business & Technology, Vol. 4, No. 7, November/December 2002, McGraw Hill Companies, Hightstown, NJ, pp 69-71.

    About the Author

    Damon D. Judd is President of Ala Carto Consulting, a private consulting practice offering GIS and spatial data management services to utilities, energy, local government, and environmental ogranizations. His education includes a Geography degree from U.C. Santa Barbara with an emphasis in remote sensing and GIS. His career spans more than 22 years in information technology roles including programmer/analyst, technical team lead, project manager, consultant, and technical advisor in a variety of government and industry sectors including research, energy, water resources, forestry, software, and consulting.

    Mr. Judd’s areas of specialization include geographic information systems (GIS), relational database management, business process analysis, system integration, facilities and land management, and decision support systems for engineering and environmental applications. Additional areas of expertise include: asset and work management, remote sensing and image processing, computer graphics, computer aided drafting (CAD), and environmental modeling.

    He has numerous publications and presentations related to geospatial data analysis techniques, database and application design, and project implementations. Mr. Judd is currently an adjunct faculty member of the University of Denver Geography Department.

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